Ukraine Warns Russia: Two Sides On ‘Brink Of Disaster’
By Scott Neuman
Ukraine's new government warned Russia on Sunday that the two countries "are on the brink of disaster" after an incursion by Moscow's forces into the Crimea peninsula that has sparked a rapidly escalating international crisis.
Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his troops.
"There was no reason for the Russian Federation to invade Ukraine," Yatsenyuk said after a closed session of his new parliament in Kiev. He called Russia's military intervention a "declaration of war" against his country.
Yatsenyuk's remarks came as the U.S. and European leaders stepped up their denunciations of Moscow's move to seize Crimea — an autonomous region that remains home to Russia's Black Sea fleet despite Ukrainian independence in 1991. There are also reports that partisans, possibly aided by Moscow, are fomenting unrest in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east.
The stunning military incursion that began on Thursday follows last week's ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych after months of anti-government demonstrations opposing his vision for the country's economic and political future. Yanukovych, who subsequently fled to Russia, had sought to keep close ties with the Kremlin, while many Ukrainians believe they need to look west toward Europe.
On Saturday, Russian lawmakers approved an appeal from Putin to authorize the use of force in Ukraine until such time that "the political situation is normalized" in what amounted to a justification for the troops already sent and a blank check for any future deployments.
Ukraine's new and untested government, still finding its feet after barely a week in power, has responded with a nationwide mobilization of troops. NPR's Emily Harris, reporting from Kiev, says:
"No Ukrainian troops are marching, but reservists are being called to register at military offices. ... Meanwhile, Ukraine's parliament approved a 10-point decree in an emergency session on Sunday that calls for troops from Russia's Black Sea fleet to go back to where they are permitted by treaty to be in Crimea — and appeals directly to Putin to not allow Russian forces into Ukraine."
The BBC adds that the decree authorizes "full combat readiness," the setting up of emergency headquarters and increased security at key sites, including nuclear plants.
On the ground in Ukraine, the military situation is confusing, but the BBC reports seeing what appear to be Russian troops digging trenches along the Crimean border — a possible signal that Moscow does not intend a quick withdrawal.
There were reports that about 100 Ukrainian marines were surrounded on Sunday in the Crimean port city of Feodosia by unidentified armed men who have demanded that the garrison pledge loyalty to pro-Russian authorities.
The BBC also reports that:
"[Two] Russian anti-submarine warships have appeared off the coast of Crimea in violation of an agreement governing the presence of Russia's Fleet in the peninsula."
"Russian soldiers are widely reported to be guarding a number of administrative buildings and military bases in Crimea. Parliament, airports, the state television building and telecommunications hubs have also been surrounded."
Reuters reports that Ukrainian coast guard ships were being withdrawn from Crimea and moved to safer Black Sea ports.
Meanwhile, NATO's North Atlantic Council, the alliance's political decision-making body and the NATO-Ukraine Commission, were meeting on Sunday to discuss the crisis.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the allies will "coordinate closely" on the situation in Ukraine, which he termed "grave."
"What Russia is doing now in Ukraine violates the principles of the United Nations charter. It threatens peace and security in Europe," Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels ahead of a meeting of NATO ambassadors, according to The Associated Press.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday echoed President Obama's reported comments in a 90-minute phone call to Putin. Kerry called Russia's intervention in Crimea a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty "in full contravention of Russia's obligations."
On Sunday, Kerry told the CBS program Face the Nation that Russia's actions are an "incredible act of aggression" that threatened "very serious repercussions" from the Washington.
"You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped up pre-text,"Kerry said.